With a Pinch of Imagination: Why a 1980’s cook book remains an endearing favourite.

Good Food From Farthinghoe - available on-line

Good Food from Farthinghoe by Nicola Cox. Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd 1981

Good Food From Farthinghoe by Nicola Cox. Published in 1981 by Victor Gollancz Ltd, London.


Cookery books, like people, come in myriad shapes and sizes, colours, languages and nationalities. As a consummate collector I have amassed over 500. Amongst this pottage or feast of books – either could be a collective noun for such an assortment – there are tall thin books leaning at angles for support, tiny to the point compendiums, learned leathery tomes alongside glossy, eat me now fashionistas.

Like friends, there are books in the collection whose look and style I admire; some that I aspire to be like, others that I am in awe of. There are those that I would like to know more intimately and others, whilst beautifully presented, are at heart standoffish or plain impenetrable. Unkindly discarded, dormant and dusty, books that I may once have been ‘in-love’ with are relegated to the ‘out of sight out of mind shelves’, serving as a reminder of the fickleness of taste and food fashion.

However wide ones friendship network we usually have just a few long term best friends. Good Food From Farthinghoe by Nicola Cox falls plum into this category. Like a child’s well-worn, much loved teddy, my own bare, brown, hard back copy no longer sports its previously smart outer jacket. Torn or stained with overuse it was removed for ‘safety’ and is since lost. If I had a Kitchen Soulmate Nicola Cox would be it.

Cox, a self-taught cook, learned world cuisines during 12 years of globetrotting as an army wife, and classic French cooking from time spent regularly in France. She was inspired by Elizabeth David and Robert Carrier – taste makers of the 1960’s and 70’s; and Cox’s own ‘Culinary Godmother’ was the influential Sunday Times food writer Margaret Costa, who she met on winning the Sunday Times Cook of Britain competition in 1975. Entertaining is the book’s theme; Buffet Parties, Dinner Parties, Informal Lunch Parties, Special Occasions and Spontaneous Entertaining. The recipes taken from those that Cox taught in her cookery school in Farthinghoe, Sussex.

Published in 1981 when food habits in the UK were rapidly changing; influences from Europe, as we joined the EEC (1973 &1975), shifted British inclinations for formal entertaining to the altogether more casual. Cox’s aim is to inspire and excite those aspiring to this new ‘kitchen approach to entertaining’. Cox wrote for busy professionals juggling career and family, country house and town house, entertaining and family cooking. Her tips and advice are as warranted today as they were then.

Cox, clearly a natural teacher shares her wisdom with a down to earth and humorous approach, You feel that you are sitting in on one of her demonstration classes. She intimately connects with sound advice, ground rules for entertaining, useful tips and humorous sharing’s of her own mistakes and kitchen disasters. She wants you to succeed. Number 1. ground rule is not to overstretch yourself, hence recipes are categorised as ‘easy, straightforward and more complicated’. Any advanced preparation is made clear with a ‘P for Preparation’. Her bête-noir are writers who fail to alert that something should have been prepared hours, or even days ahead of time. Her own failure in this respect found her valiantly stuffing a treacherously hot leg of lamb into rapidly softening pastry.

The Chapter on Buffet Parties is a life-saver. Scaling up recipes is not as simple as quadrupling every ingredient – do this with a chili dish and you are in seriously hot trouble, and casseroles will be all sauce. Cox helpfully provides recipe quantities for 4-6, as well as for 25 portions.

Recipes in Good Food From Farthinghoe at first glance appear dated, yet some of her ideas are inspired. Take the Jubilee Seafood starter, delicately flavoured raw smoked haddock, coated in piquant tomato mayonnaise and set on a cool, orange scented tomato chartreuse. ‘My Syrup Tart’, could just as well be my syrup tart it’s so familiar on our table, jewelled with grated red dessert apple cutting through the syrupy sweetness, it sits in a usefully unshrinkable pastry case.

With a pinch of imagination, Cox’s recipes can be re- or de-constructed making them relevant to today’s tastes. Instantly modernise a sweet or savoury mousse by shaping it into quenelles. Equally, a blind date of the deliciously sherbety lemon soufflé paired with honey and saffron poached pear is a marriage made in heaven.

Souflee au Citron from Good Food At Farthinghoe

Quenelles of Lemon Soufflé with Saffron and Honey Poached Pear

Although no longer in print, a quick online search should have a copy of Good Food From Farthinghoe winging its way to you before the guests arrive.

This review was written by Belinda Hill as part of the Narrative and Non Fiction Writing Course at City University, London.

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